Although there is currently a lot of negativity in the world, let’s start positive: Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne, France, is a GO!!!
Who would have thought that? As far as I know, every Ironman race (at least in Europe) after the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, has been canceled so far or has been postponed after today’s date. Even the big and important races have been canceled, like Ironman Hamburg, Ironman Barcelona, the World Cup Ironman race on Hawaii, and World Cup Ironman 70.3 in Taupo, New Zealand. Just over a week ago the Ironman race in Nice, France, was canceled, but we’re very fortunate that (as of today) the Ironman 70.3 race Les Sables d’Olonne, France, is still going to happen!
This whole year, I’ve been training for my Ironman races that I had planned for 2020. As everybody knows, the Coronavirus has changed a lot in the world. Many deaths, changes in lifestyles, and work situations, the unemployment rate is sky-high, and almost all the large events were canceled. My number 1 race for 2020, Ironman 70.3 Subic Bay, Philippines, was first postponed and later completely canceled for 2020.
But I had myself registered for two more races this year: Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne, and Ironman 70.3 West-Friesland, the Netherlands. Both races were postponed and those dates did fit in my work schedule (or actually time off from work schedule). Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne was postponed to Sunday 6 September and Ironman 70.3 West-Friesland to Sunday 4 October.
So, when I came back home after my last project at the end of June, my main priority was to focus on nothing else than triathlon training. Of course, I’ve been doing other things besides the training like continue renovating my house interior and trying to be social to some friends and family. But the main focus was getting ready for my three Ironman races!
My triathlon coach has kept me busy during my work on the vessels but those training were limited to about an hour every day. Now it was time to catch up! My training schedule was quickly increased to well over 20 hours per week. And I was loving it! I really like to train, push myself to the max, and feel that I’m getting stronger and faster! My coach knows this and I keep in close contact with him to let him know when I’m getting exhausted. The training schedule was built up to become more intensive every week for a couple of weeks in a row and then have an easier recovery week. And then continue to build up even further!
In the second week of July, I had some speed tests to complete to see my actual condition. A 20-kilometer bike speed test on Tuesday, a 5-kilometer run speed test on Wednesday, and a new CSS (critical swim speed) test on Sunday. The 20-kilometer bike speed test was completed with an average of 40.4 kmh and 274 Watt. Not too bad, considering the strong wind on that day! The 5-kilometer didn’t go really great; maybe my legs were still a bit exhausted from the day before. It took me 19 min 20 sec, so my average speed was 3:52/1km. I felt that I could have done better! My swim speed test resulted in a new CSS of 1:54/100m. Slowly (pretty slowly) I’m improving my swimming technique and therefore speed but I feel that I need to find a new swim trainer to make some larger steps!
In this same week as the speed tests, so after about 2 weeks home, the message came that the Ironman 70.3 Subic Bay race was canceled for 2020 and would take place in June 2021… This was a disappointment but it was not going to get me down. Ok, it’s annoying but very understandable and nothing we can do about. Reset, and focus on the next one: Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne on 6 September!
My training continued and I came in contact with a new swim trainer: Tri2One in Lelystad. After some emails and a phone call, we came to an agreement that I would start with a proper swim analysis and then continue every two weeks with a swim training in his endless pool. I’ve never swum in an endless pool but I had heard some pretty good stories about Hylke (the trainer) and his endless pool. The swim analysis was booked for 22 July first thing in the morning. After a quick coffee and chat about me, my plans, and my expectations, it was time to jump into the pool.
The endless pool is about 4 meters long, 2 meters wide, and fitted with a controllable Jetstream to change the speed of the water. There are several mirrors in the pool so you can see yourself while you’re swimming, which is great to see if you’re doing the technique correctly. Next to the mirrors, Hylke was video recording during the swimming and the footage was shown on a large screen.
During the analysis, Hylke was giving me some feedback and improvements to make and he was recording it and showing it afterward. The feedback is so direct and because of the mirrors, you can really use the feedback and see if you’re doing it better during the swim.
Compare this to swim 50 meters in a busy pool and then hear some tips from a swim trainer, who’s standing on the side of the pool, without being able to see exactly what you’ve been doing wrong and maybe not even understanding how to do the correct technique. An endless pool is really a very good way to improve your swim technique!
After the swim analysis, of which I received the video footage and spoken feedback from Hylke later on the same day, I continued with the swim training every other week. Hylke has a great method of finding your weak spots and giving you feedback to improve your technique. My swim technique wasn’t great (to say the least) but improved in the endless pool, to somewhat decent. Of course, it’s up to me to focus on the correct technique and make this my standard and not to fall back into my old bad technique. That will take some time but I’m hopeful that it’s possible. Even for me 🙂
The first Corona wave was well passed and it was starting to get a bit more normal all over Europe. The summer holidays had started and so many people started to go on vacation to France, Spain, Italy and wherever more. Many flights were happening again across the globe… And guess what… Yes, the Corona infections were increasing again… Several regions were back in lockdown again. Tourists of certain countries were refused entry. Tourists that came back from certain regions, we requested to go into a 2-weeks quarantine. The second Corona wave was not far away? Was Europe going into a second full lockdown again?
Three weeks before IM 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne, 2nd week of August, I had to make a decision about my accommodation reservation in France. Was I going to take the chance and hope that the race would happen? With all the increasing number of infections everywhere? I canceled my apartment (was still free of charge cancelation) and I waited for the cancelation of Ironman… But I was also looking forward to going somewhere… I needed a break from my own home, I really wanted to go on ‘vacation’. So, I booked another apartment for just a little shorter period in Les Sables d’Olonne. Actually, this apartment is right on the beachfront with a great view from the balcony over the beach and sea.
Middle of August it was time for my yearly triathlon fitness test at SMA Midden Nederland. Besides some physical tests to see if I was still healthy, the fitness test also included the bike and run VO2Max tests. These tests would give me a very good idea of how much I improved compared to last year and to set my new heart rate and power training zones.
After being declared healthy (yeah) it was time for my bike test. All the sensors were put on my body, the breathing cup tight on my face and the cycling started. Starting at 120 Watt which was going to be increased by 30 Watts every 3 minutes until I couldn’t turn the pedals anymore. It started easy and slowly it became harder and harder.
- Aerobe threshold: 126 bpm at 210 Watt
- Anaerobe threshold: 151 bpm at 290 Watt
- Max power: 420 Watt
After a very short break, the run test was next. Again, with the breathing cup tight on my face. Starting at 10 kmh which was getting increased by 1 kmh every 3 minutes until I couldn’t run anymore (or actually just before 😉 ).
- Aerobe threshold: 145 bpm at 5:00/1km
- Anaerobe threshold: 161 bpm at 3:56/1km
- Max speed: 20 kmh
Overall I can say that I’ve improved a lot! My overall condition is a lot better and this fitness test showed that. On the bike, I’m able to reach a lot higher power and my aerobe and anaerobe thresholds have improved as well. My fat burning has developed in the low heart rate zone (although this can be improved further) and this was something that was really poorly last year. For the run, I’m running faster at a lower heart rate now and I’m able to reach higher max speed. I feel that I can still improve for both and that’s a nice goal for the next 12 months!
Friday 21 August: the Ironman race in Nice, France, was canceled. I was waiting again for the cancelation of Les Sables d’Olonne but it didn’t come through. The strange thing with these cancelations is that Ironman will only cancel a race after the official cancelation of the mayor, province, or other governmental organization. Since Nice is in another province and the infections were increasing over there very quickly, Ironman Nice was canceled. But Les Sables d’Olonne is in another province and apparently, it’s not too bad here…. Let’s hope it will stay like this… But I can’t say it’s really relaxing with the constant uncertainty whether the race will happen or another last-minute cancellation…
In the early hours of Monday 24 August, I drove off to Les Sables d’Olonne. My car was packed with everything that I possibly could need. Of course, my triathlon bike and all triathlon clothing for the training and race, but also a lot of nutrition. My NutrID sports nutrition but also my whey protein oatmeal, BCAA and multivit tables. Next to my normal clothes for a 2-week vacation.
Starting the drive with a large cup of coffee, I had an easy 10-hour drive without any traffic jams or other delays. Just stopping for petrol and a short break to stretch my legs. Arriving in town around midday, just in time for lunch and a relaxing walk around the center before I could pick up the keys of the apartment.
The apartment isn’t huge but I have a bed, bathroom, kitchen, nice balcony, and enough space for all my stuff and bike. Les Sables d’Olonne is a small city just a couple of hours drive south of Nantes.
The city has a small center with narrow streets with shops and restaurants. It’s looking pretty typical French actually although I’ve never seen so many ice and crepes (pancakes) shops on one street. The boulevard is packed with these kinds of outlets which makes the feeling a bit too touristy.
The beach is maybe about 1 km long and quite wide at low tide. The tidal range is quite a lot at the moment, approx. 3.5 m and at high tide, there isn’t much beach left. Besides swimming and other beach activities, there is a pretty large group of wave surfers in their own section of the beach.
In the next week, I’ve been exploring the bike route a few times. The road surface is pretty good for French standards 😉 and the constant hilly terrain is a nice challenge but doesn’t feel too bad for the legs. The run route is along the main boulevard but due to the Corona, it’s mandatory to wear a mouth mask in the center and on the boulevard so I’ve not run the full route yet. Running with a mouth mask isn’t the most comfortable thing and I don’t care too much about the run route. After the bike transition, it’s about 1.5 km to the main boulevard (with 300 m over the beach) and then 3 laps of each about 6.5 km. The swim will start from the beach and then turn into the little channel to the marina.
I’ve been swimming a few times in the sea and because of the storm Francis, the waves have been pretty high although they are coming down already. The start times are per age group and then a rolling start of 5 athletes every 8 seconds. Due to the channel and changing current after high water, this is probably the fairest method.
The Athletes Guide has been published with all the Corona precautions and all the normal race information. Ironman France has done a very good job so far to organize this race and to implement all the precautions to keep all the athletes, volunteers, and supporters safe. Basically, wear a mouth mask everywhere! Even in line for the swim start, you have to wear the mouth mask until the very last moment and directly after crossing the finish line you’ll get a new mouth mask to wear. These are strange times and it would probably one of the very few Ironman races that will happen this year so all these precautions are ok for me, as long as the race will happen!
It’s now exactly one week before the start of Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne… One week to train a little bit but nothing intensive anymore. And one week to keep my fingers crossed that the race will happen… Let’s all keep our fingers crossed…